County hopes to gain oversight over fairgrounds, park


Updated leases are being considered for property the county leases to the Dubois County 4-H Council and the Dubois County Park Board.

But it’s unlikely that the terms of the leases agreed upon decades ago will change.

That means the length of the leases will last until 2067, and each group will continually keep control of how the property is used.

An examination of the leases started after the 4-H Council considered last year adding a motocross track onto 4-H property, which would have been used once a month during the outdoor motocross racing season. Amid protests and concerns from nearby neighbors, that did not happen. But it did call into question whether or not the county has any say over what the council and park board do to the property.

When he started researching the lease, County Attorney Art Nordhoff found several leases for the boards: an original lease and lease updates done over the years.

The Dubois County Commissioners discussed the matter Monday, and said they wanted to clean up those leases to have one clear, unified lease with the 4-H Council and one with the park board.

Commissioners President Nick Hostetter has been working with the park board and 4-H council on the matter, to see what they are looking for and would agree to, in terms of any changes. In that, the 4-H Council has agreed to have county representation on its board, which is currently made up of all volunteers. The park board members are all appointed positions, including two representatives appointed by the Dubois County Council.

The park board would like the 40 acres of land west of the campground that was purchased by the county in recent years to be put under the board’s jurisdiction. The board also agreed with the county’s suggestion that Fairground Road, which leads from State Road 162 to the park, be put in the county’s road inventory.

The original lease with the 4-H Council has the county leasing 40 acres of property that is the now part of the 4-H Fairgounds to the council for $1. The agreement was executed to start Jan. 13, 1969, and lasts until January 13, 2067. The council takes on the expenses of the property, including taxes, utilities and upkeep of the property and its buildings.

The agreement also allows the council to sublease the property to other entities for use. As written in the lease, “The Lessee (the 4-H Council) may, without obtaining the previous consent of the Lessor (the county), assign the leased premises or any portion thereof for any period of time, and the said Lessee shall be solely responsible or the actions of said assignee or assignees.”

The lease states that the property is to primarily to be used for “the establishment and installation of buildings and improvements for 4-H Fairs and exhibitions, and for similar activities, whether sponsored by the Lessee or others.

“It is further agreed that the Lessee shall be the sole Judge as to whom the premises may be assigned and occupied at various time,” the lease states.

The lease was signed Jan. 14, 1969 by then-4-H Council President H. E. Thyen and then-Dubois County Commissioners Richard Eckerle, Cletus C. Luebbehusen and Hilmar Denu.

Another lease signed by the same officials on Jan. 20, 1970, assigns another 60 acres at the fairgrounds to the 4-H Council. The lease has the same guidelines as the 1969 lease, but states that the property is leased to the council until March 31, 2067.

In the county’s agreement with the council, the commissioners want to make sure that the county has some representation on the council board, to which the council has agreed. Whether that needs to be in the lease is currently being considered.

A lease similar to the 4-H Council’s 1969 lease was created between the county and the Dubois County Park and Recreation Board on June 7, 1976. The agreement leased 44 acres of property to the board until March 31, 2067. It also allows the lessee, which is the board, “without obtaining previous consent of the Lessor (the county), assign the leased premises or any portion thereof for any period of time, and the said Lessee shall be solely responsible for the actions of said assignee or asignees.” Later in the lease, it also states that the board “shall be the sole judge as to whom the premises may be assigned and occupied at various times.” The lease is signed by then-Commissioners David Schnell, Hilmar Denu and Cletus Luebbehusen, and then-park board members Michael H. Uebelhor, Earl F. Buechler James A. Seger, Robert J. Steffe and Dale J. Miller.

Another lease, signed May 20, 1991, is for another 50 acres of land and has the same stipulations at the 1976 lease. That one is signed then-Commissioners Virgil Schnaus, Gilbert Fleck and Mary Lou Schnell, and then-park board members Robert J. Steffen, Earl F. Buehler, Gerald B. Terwiske, Robert H. Hedinger and Al Mihajlovits.

But, as County Attorney Art Nordhoff has looked at the legal stipulations of the park board’s lease, he noticed that it does not include the property that is currently being used as the park’s campgrounds. The commissioners agreed that it should be added into the new lease, as well as the 40 acres just west of the current campground that was purchased a few years ago. The park board is looking to use that land for additional RV camp sites and a rugged trail for campers and visitors to use, though that plan has not yet been officially confirmed.

Commissioner Elmer Brames indicated Monday that he would be interested in rewriting both leases to help clean up each lease and have more defined boundary lines for each group. Commissioners President Nick Hostetter said that the 4-H Council is happy with its current lease agreement.

“I don’t think they would favor rewriting the lease,” he said. “They have nothing to gain (from rewriting the lease).”

“Yes they do,” Brames said, “our continued cooperation.”

He and Commissioner Chad Blessinger said that the county should have some oversight on what the groups do with the property.

Nordhoff said the county’s influence is in the funding the county gives each group every year. “You can just stop giving them money,” he said.

“That is our oversight,” Hostetter said.

Hostetter said he sympathizes with the council’s plight.

“We gave money to build a grandstand and told them to make money on it,” he said. “When they came up with an idea, we’re trying to tell them that they can’t do that.

“If it wasn’t for (the) motocross (matter), this wouldn’t have come up.”

The commissioners told Nordhoff to write up a proposed lease for the park property first. They will also continue to work with both boards on the matter.

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